SYDNEY — If you’re on the search for the healthiest packaged foods and drinks, look no further than merry old England. According to a new global analysis of over 400,000 food and drink products sampled from 12 countries and territories, the United Kingdom offers the healthiest packaged foods. America comes in at second place, and Australia rounds out the top three.
Unfortunately, it seems that even the healthiest of packaged foods aren’t exactly, well, healthy. Conducted by The George Institute for Global Health in Sydney, Australia, the survey shines a light on the exorbitant levels of saturated fat, sugar, salt, and calories present in the majority of the world’s favorite foods.
Each country was ranked using Australia’s Health Star system — a straightforward nutrient rating system that takes into account various factors such as salt, sugar, protein, and calcium, among others, and then assigns each food product a star rating between 0.5 (least healthy), and 5 (most healthy).
The U.K. achieved the highest average star rating, coming in at 2.83, followed by the U.S. at 2.82, and Australia at 2.81. Regarding the lowest scoring countries, India came in last with a rating of 2.27, then China at 2.43, and Chile at 2.44.
Overall, researchers say their findings are concerning. The poor health quality of packaged foods, combined with their general affordability and wide spread availability, is causing an influx of diet-related diseases, especially among low and middle income countries.
“Globally we’re all eating more and more processed foods and that’s a concern because our supermarkets shelves are full of products that are high in bad fats, sugar and salt and are potentially making us sick,” explains lead author Dr. Elizabeth Dunford in a release. “Our results show that some countries are doing a much better job than others. Unfortunately it’s the poorer nations that are least able to address the adverse health consequences that have the unhealthiest foods.”
Among the survey’s findings, a few statistics stood out: China had some of the healthiest drinks in the survey, with a star rating of 2.9, but Chinese food was much less healthy at a rating of 2.39 stars. Meanwhile South African drinks were found to be very unhealthy (1.92 stars), but its food scored much higher (2.87 stars).
Canadian food and drink contained the most sodium, followed by American packaged food products. As far as sugar, U.K. food products were the healthiest and contained the lowest amounts, followed by Canadian food and drink at second best.
Surprisingly, despite Chinese drinks scoring so well on the overall rating, both Chinese food and beverages were found to contain the most harmful amounts of saturated fat and sugar. On average, Chinese food products contained 8.5 grams of sugar per 100 grams, which is more than double the U.K.’s sugar average. India had the second highest levels of sugar on average, with 7.3 grams per 100 grams.
“Billions of people are now exposed to very unhealthy foods on a daily basis. The obesity crisis is just the first ripple of a tsunami of dietary ill health that is coming for us. We have to find a way that the food industry can profit from selling rational quantities of quality food, rather than deluging us with unhealthy junk. There are few greater priorities for human health,” comments co-author Professor Bruce Neal.
On the bright side, the survey does note that a number of the world’s major food and drink manufacturers have joined the International Food and Beverage Alliance and pledged to start reducing the levels of sodium, sugar, and saturated fat in their products.
The study is published in the scientific journal Obesity Reviews.